There has been a long list of powerhouse college football games announced for future seasons — Oklahoma versus Nebraska, LSU taking on Clemson and Alabama against Notre Dame, just to name a few — all in beloved, traditional home-and-home series.
As exciting as the prospects of those contests are, many of those games are years (and years and even more years) away. The excitement of the marquee matchups is certainly tempered by the long waiting game fans have to play to see them. Regardless, it’s great to watch the best play the best more often.
There was also one scheduling announcement last week that may not have caught the attention of the entire college football world, but may wind up be more groundbreaking than any of those other games. Alabama and South Florida signed a three-game pledge where the games will be played in 2023, 2024 and 2026 with the first matchup taking place in Tampa, Florida, home of the South Florida Bulls.
This development is huge for scrappy, non-Power Five schools. For the last several seasons, the unofficial leader for Group of Five teams was Central Florida. And rightfully so. UCF has been almost perfect while going 25-1 over that span. The issue for the Knights was their weak schedules which virtually eliminated them from the College Football Playoffs before the season started barring parity-driven catastrophe from the Power Five teams.
Upset and unwilling to adapt their slate of opponents via creative scheduling through playing blue-blood opponents in away games as a once-off or a 2-for-1 deal (two games at the opponent’s place and home at UCF’s stadium), it seemed the Knights were wanting to rally the other Group of Five teams to do the same out of solidarity.
South Florida didn’t listen.
Instead, the Bulls accepted the terms of the Alabama contract which does force USF to travel to Tuscaloosa in 2024 and in 2026 to get just one coveted home game against ’Bama in 2023.
Frankly, it’s a win-win situation for those two schools and maybe even (UCF notwithstanding) the other Power Five and Group of Five members. USF has shown the will and the way to attract big fish to meet up which will, in turn, bring many, many more eyeballs on its program.
For Alabama, the benefits are also numerous. The Tide gets to play in Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), gets to show off in person for one of America’s greatest hotbeds of talent and ’Bama looks benevolent for being willing to travel to play a team not on its historical level.
Here’s hoping other teams of both Alabama and South Florida’s stature take note. Off the top of my head and with no reason to believe actual talks are taking place, it would make sense for Tulane to play Penn State under the same conditions as the UA/USF deal. Tulane travels to Happy Valley twice and Penn Sate agrees to one game versus the Green Wave at the Superdome — a place where the Nittany Lions have some history.
Auburn gets two home games against Houston before flying to Texas to take on the Cougars just once. Heck, how about Georgia versus Navy in Athens twice and then the Dawgs face the Midshipmen in Baltimore, Maryland (where UGA has been recruiting a lot of late)? Talk about a game that would garner your school a lot of goodwill.
The best thing about ’Bama and South Florida coming to scheduling terms is while it illustrates there is a clearly defined (and well-deserved) bias towards historically powerful schools, it gives the Cinderella team a shot to prove it may eventually need to be respected much more. If Central Florida’s Knight would come off of his moral high-horse, maybe that school would begin to understand there is a path to that respect.